We all read the news headlines about another company getting sued for harassment or discrimination in the workplace. But what does that really mean? What did that employee endure that gave them the legal right to seek retribution from their employer?

According to the EEOC, there are several categories of discrimination that are illegal in the workplace. We’ll discuss each of them below and share examples of how these have been a problem in workplaces around the county.

  • Age

    “Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age.” A jury recently ruled that a company in Michigan had to pay out more than a half million dollars to a former employee. This employee said she had 18 years experience and qualifications for a new position but was passed over when the company decided to hire someone much younger and with only had 3 years of experience.

  • Disability

    “Disability discrimination occurs when an employer or other entity covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, or the Rehabilitation Act, as amended, treats a qualified individual with a disability who is an employee or applicant unfavorably because she has a disability.” A bank in Australiasettled a discrimination lawsuit from customers. The bank had installed touchpad devices at their banks that were not usable by blind or vision-impaired people. As part of settling the lawsuit, the bank agreed to update all of its devices with audio options.

  • Equal Pay/Compensation

    “The Equal Pay Act requires that men and women in the same workplace be given equal pay for equal work. The jobs need not be identical, but they must be substantially equal. Job content (not job titles) determines whether jobs are substantially equal. All forms of pay are covered by this law, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, profit sharing and bonus plans, life insurance, vacation and holiday pay, cleaning or gasoline allowances, hotel accommodations, reimbursement for travel expenses, and benefits. If there is an inequality in wages between men and women, employers may not reduce the wages of either sex to equalize their pay.” This one is pretty straightforward on what it looks like in the workplace, and there are several examples of lawsuits against employers for this. One recent example was a company in Maryland had to pay $36,000 because it paid women a lower salary for the same work men were being paid more for.

  • Genetic Information

    “Under Title II of GINA, it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Title II of GINA prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions, restricts employers and other entities covered by Title II (employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management training and apprenticeship programs – referred to as “covered entities”) from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information, and strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information.” This one is difficult to find examples of in the workplace because the law preventing this type of discrimination is relatively recent.

  • Harassment

    “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.” Where do we start? Here are three articles about employers on the wrong end of a lawsuit here, here, and here.

  • National Origin

    “National origin discrimination involves treating people (applicants or employees) unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not).”   This is an interesting article about a company that had to pay out $6 million because of discrimination based on a person’s national origin … in this case they were American.

  • Pregnancy

    “Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.”  A company in New York paid out $6.2 million to three former employees who were treated differently and ultimately fired after they announced their pregnancies.

  • Race/Color

    “Race discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because he/she is of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features). Color discrimination involves treating someone unfavorably because of skin color complexion.” The only African American employee at a retail store was continually subjected to racial harassment and death threats during management training. The company ended up paying him $165,000.

  • Religion

    “Religious discrimination involves treating a person (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of his or her religious beliefs. The law protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have sincerely held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.” A company in South Carolina lost a lawsuit against a former employee who said they didn’t accommodate his religion and ultimately fired him because of it.

  • Retaliation

    “Retaliation is the most frequently alleged basis of discrimination in the federal sector and the most common discrimination finding in federal sector cases.” Harley Davidson paid out almost a half million dollars after a lawsuit about sexual harassment and retaliation.

  • Sex

    “Sex discrimination involves treating someone (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of that person’s sex.” Three lawyers are suing their law firm for discrimination based on their gender.

  • Sexual Harassment.

    “It is unlawful to harass a person (an applicant or employee) because of that person’s sex. Harassment can include “sexual harassment” or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” Like harassment, there are too many stories to choose from. So here are three: one, two, three.

These stories happen often enough that employers need to be proactive in preventing discrimination.

Be proactive and protect your employees and company from discrimination in any form. Find out how Bevoco can be a powerful conflict resolution tool for your company.